University of California

University of California (5)

UC San Diego’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS UCSD) successfully launched the Vulcan-1 rocket on Saturday, May 21, at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) site in Mojave, CA.

SEDS UCSD initially experienced some delays, but successfully launched just before 4 p.m. in heavily windy conditions, making them the first university group to design, create, and launch a rocket powered by a completely 3-D printed engine.

Vulcan-1 was 19 feet long and 8 inches in diameter, capable of 750 lb. of thrust. A cryogenic, bi-propellant, liquid-fueled blow down system, the rocket was powered with a combination of liquid oxygen (LOx) and refined kerosene. The rocket engine was sponsored by GPI Prototype & Manufacturing Services and 3D printed in inconel 718 at their facilities in Lake Bluff, IL.

The Vulcan-1 project began in 2014 and quickly grew into a team of over 60 student engineers. The team fabricated and tested the rocket at Open Source Maker Labs, a makerspace in nearby Vista, CA which provided equipment and support for the project.  SEDS UCSD also received mentor support from NASA, XCOR, Open Source Maker Labs, and many other groups in the space industry.

“This sort of technology has really come to fruition in the last few years.  This is proof of concept that if students at the undergraduate level could drive down the costs of building these engines, we could actually fly rockets and send up payload that is cheaper and more efficient,” said Darren Charrier, the group’s incoming president.  “One day, we’d like to see this technology being implemented on large-scale rockets, which means that we could send satellites to provide internet for developing countries, we could mine asteroids, perhaps even go colonize Mars.”

SEDS UCSD is an undergraduate student-run research group that aims to advance the future of space exploration and development technology. SEDS has previously garnered media attention for being the first students to design, print, and test a 3-D printed rocket engine.

Friday, 04 March 2016 12:26

NASA Engineers Visit SEDS@UCSD

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A group of nine NASA engineers from Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center visited SEDS@UCSD on March 1 and 2 for a second design review of their static fire test stand.

The group of engineers included Roger D. Simpson, program manager for the NASA Rocket Propulsion Test Program Office, as well as current SEDS mentor Jonathan Jones, who played a key role in starting the SEDS@UCSD chapter and introduced the idea for the student-created 3-D printed rocket engine project.

The double cryogenic bi-propellant liquid rocket test stand, dubbed “Colossus”, was designed from scratch by a team of three SEDS@UCSD members–John Marcozzi, Dennis Ren, and Deenah Sanchez. Colossus showcases SEDS’ innovative high-level design capabilities and ability to build to professional protocol, allowing future members to safely and reliably test rocket engines. Since NASA’s first visit and design critique in November, the Colossus team has worked hard to make improvements and is excited to share their progress with the visiting engineers.

Deenah Sanchez, SEDS@UCSD propellant systems engineer and Colossus systems engineering lead, said, “We are extremely lucky and grateful to have mentorship and design review from NASA because we have a lot of high expectations for this system and want to adhere to industry standards, specifically NASA standards.” Sanchez noted that “NASA wants to help us as much as possible, but they also try to facilitate our growth by not doing any of the design work or calculations, but rather help through design review. I think they see that the members of SEDS have the same passion and drive in aerospace technology and space exploration as NASA does.”

SEDS@UCSD is a undergraduate student-run research group that aims to create and advance the future of space exploration and development technology. With Colossus, SEDS hopes to encourage the longevity of the group by streamlining their design and testing process. Colossus will also eventually provide steady capital for the group and ensure that future SEDS members have a solid foundation with which to develop future technologies.

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The University of California, San Diego chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS@UCSD) conducted two hotfire tests of their second 3D printed rocket engine on April 18, 2015 at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry test facility in the Mojave Desert.

The rocket engine, named Ignus, was sponsored by and completely metal 3D printed at the facilities of GPI Prototype in Lake Bluff, IL. The rocket engine utilized liquid oxygen and kerosene as its propellants and was designed to achieve 750 lbf of thrust, a stepping stone in the club’s goal of producing larger and more powerful rocket engines. The design and testing of this engine is part of a larger project for the students guided and mentored by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center along with Dr. Forman Williams of UCSD.

As members of UC San Diego’s Gordon Engineering Leadership Center, leaders of the club were encouraged to pursue tough and challenging projects to prepare them for their lives post-graduation.

The engine was the product of a year and a half of work that the students put in to design and fabricate both the engine and the test system. This is the students’ most notable headline since they made national news with the first test of a 3D printed engine by a university, in October 2013.

“Seeing the engine roar to life was real validation to the thousands of man hours and sleepless nights designing, building, and preparing the rocket engine and the test stand. It was a testament to our determination and passion for space technologies”, said Deepak Atyam, Club President and Gordon Fellow.

“We aim to align our research so it is compatible with the needs of the aerospace industry. 3D printing has significant benefits including huge cuts to the cost, time to fabricate, and weight of rocket engines.”

The SEDS chapter conducted this research with the support of various organizations including GPI Prototype, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin, the Gordon Engineering Leadership Center, and XCOR Aerospace.

Jeremy Voigt, design and test engineer at XCOR, assisted with the testing procedures and explained “There are not many people that can do what they have done, let alone as students, in regards to successfully test firing an engine on the first try. They not only accomplished that, but did it twice in one day, and with the new technology of 3D printing. That’s nothing short of amazing.”

Ignus is the first engine that was tested in a series of hot fires of different engine designs that the club plans to do in a lead up to their eventual rocket launch later this year at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition. The competition will be held in Green River, Utah June 24-27, 2015. That rocket, named Vulcan1, would be one of the first rockets powered by a 3D printed engine in the world. In order to fund the fabrication and launch of their rocket, the students have launched a KickStarter campaign.

The club would like to personally thank Carl Tedesco of Flometrics; Jeremy Voigt, Patrick Morrison, and Tony Busalacchi of XCOR Aerospace; and Wyatt Rehder of Masten Space Systems for their help during the testing procedures.

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A group of engineering students at the University of California, San Diego tested a 3D-printed rocket engine made out of laser sintered metal at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry testing site in the Mojave Desert.

To build the engine, students used a proprietary design that they developed. The engine was primarily financed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and was printed by Illinois-based GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services using direct metal laser sintering. This is the first time a university has produced a 3D printed liquid fueled metal rocket engine, according to the students, who are members of the UC San Diego chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

“We’ve all been working so hard, putting countless hours to ensure that it all works,” said Deepak Atyam, the organization’s president. “If all goes well, we would be the first entity outside of NASA to have tested a liquid fueled rocket motor in its entirety. We hope to see all of our hard work come to fruition.”

The engine was designed to power the third stage of a rocket carrying several NanoSat-style satellites with a mass of less than a few pounds each. The engine is about 6 to 7 inches long and weighs about 10 lbs. It is designed to generate 200 lbs of thrust and is made of cobalt and chromium, a high-grade alloy. It runs on kerosene and liquid oxygen and cost $6,800 to manufacture, including $5,000 from NASA. The rest was raised by students through barbeque sales and other student-run fundraisers.

A 3D printed metal rocket engine would dramatically cut costs for launches, said Forman Williams, a professor of aerospace engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, who is the students’ advisor. Williams admits that he was skeptical at first as the design of liquid-propellant rockets is very complex and detailed, but the students surprised him.

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University of California, San Diego students preparing for a future archaeological dig to Jordan will likely pack a Microsoft Kinect, but it won’t be used for post-dig, all-night gaming marathons. Instead, the students will use a modified version of the peripheral Xbox 360 device in the field to take high-quality, low-cost 3D scans of dig sites.

Jürgen Schulze, a research scientist at UCSD’s division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), along with his master’s student, Daniel Tenedorio, have figured out a way to extract data streaming from the Kinect’s onboard color camera and infrared sensor to make hand-held 3D scans of small objects and people.

Currently, the researchers can use scans of people made with the modified Kinect to produce cheap, quickly-made avatars that could conceivably be plugged right into virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Schulze’s ultimate goal, however, is to extend the technology to scan entire buildings and even neighborhoods. For the initial field application of their modified Kinect – dubbed ArKinect (a mashup of archaeology and Kinect) – Schulze plans to train engineering and archaeology students to use the device to collect data on a future expedition to Jordan led by Thomas Levy, associate director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology (CISA3).

“We are hoping that by using the Kinect we can create a mobile scanning system that is accurate enough to get fairly realistic 3D models of ancient excavation sites,” says Schulze, whose lab specializes in developing 3D visualization technology.

The scans collected at sites in Jordan or elsewhere can later be made into 3D models and projected in Calit2’s StarCAVE, a 360-degree, 16-panel immersive virtual reality environment that enables researchers to interact with virtual renderings of objects and environments. Three-dimensional models of artifacts provide more information than 2D photographs about the symmetry (and hence quality of craftsmanship, for example) of found artifacts, and 3D models of the dig sites can help archaeologists keep track of the exact locations where artifacts were located.

As of now, the modified Kinect system relies on an overhead video tracking system, limiting its range to relatively small indoor spaces.

However, Schulze notes, “In the future, we would like to make this device independent of the tracking system, which would allow us to take the system outside into the field, where we could scan arbitrarily large environments.”

“We can then use the 3D model, walk around it, we can move it around, we can look at it from all sides.”

“There may be experts off site that have access to a CAVE system,” he adds, “and they could collaborate remotely with researchers in the field. This technology could also potentially be used in a disaster site, like an earthquake, where the scene can be digitized and viewed remotely to help direct search and rescue operations.”

Schulze adds that it may even be possible to simulcast live reconstructions in the StarCAVE of 3D scans of objects or scenes taken in the field by the Kinect with a standard 3G or wireless broadband connection.

From the Living Room to the Lab

Since its release last November, the Kinect -- now the fastest-selling consumer electronics device of all time -- has captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of videogame enthusiasts as well as many university researchers, who have modified the device for use in projects ranging from robotic telesurgery to navigation systems for the blind.

Originally intended to sit atop a television and sense the movements of users playing videogames, the Kinect was repurposed by Tenedorio to capture 3D maps of stationary objects. The scanning process, which entails moving the device by hand over all surfaces of an object, looks somewhat like having a metal-detecting wand waved over one’s body at the airport (if it were done rather slowly by an overzealous TSA agent).

Schulze likens the procedure to using a can of spray paint: “Imagine you wanted to spray paint an entire person. To do a complete job, you would have to point the can at every surface, under the arms, between the fingers, and so on. Scanning a person with the Kinect works the same way.”

The ability to operate the Kinect freehand is a huge advantage over other scanning systems like LIDAR (light detecting and ranging), which creates a more accurate scan but has to be kept stationary in order to be precisely aimed.

“Having a hand-held device is important for these excavation sites where the ground is rugged and uneven,” explains Schulze. “With the Kinect, that doesn’t slow you down at all.”

How it works

The Kinect projects a pattern of infrared dots (invisible to the human eye) onto an object, which then reflect off the object and get captured by the device’s infrared sensor. The reflected dots create a 3D depth map. Nearby dots are linked together to create a triangular mesh grid of the object. The surface of each triangle in the grid is then filled in with texture and color information from the Kinect’s color camera. A scan is taken 10 times per second and data from thousands of scans are combined in real-time, yielding a 3D model of the original object or person.

One challenge Schulze and his team faced was spatially aligning all the scans. Because the ArKinect scans are done freehand, each scan is taken at a slightly different position and orientation. Without a mechanism for spatially aligning the scans, the 3D model created would be a discontinuous, Picasso-esque jumble of images.

To overcome this challenge, Tenedorio outfitted the ArKinect with a five-pronged infrared sensor attached to its top surface. The overhead video cameras track this sensor in space, thereby tagging each of the ArKinect’s scans with its exact position and orientation. This tracking makes it possible to seamlessly stitch together information from the scans, resulting in a stable 3D image.

The team is working on a tracking algorithm that incorporates smartphone sensors, such as an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and GPS (global positioning system). In combination with the existing approach for stitching scan data together, the tracking algorithm would eliminate the need to acquire position and orientation information from the overhead tracking cameras.

A major advantage of the ArKinect is that scan progress can be assessed on a computer monitor in real time. Notes Schulze, “You can see right away what you are scanning. That allows you to find holes so that when there is occlusion, you can just move the Kinect over it and fill it in.”

This is in contrast to conventional scanning devices, where data is collected and then analyzed offline -- often in a separate location -- which can be problematic if any holes are present.

Deleting unnecessary data, in fact, turned out to be the research team’s most daunting challenge. “Simply adding each frame into a global model adds too much data; within seconds, the computer cannot render the model and the system breaks,” says Tenedorio, who is joining Google as a software engineer following completion of his master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering this July.

“One of the primary thrusts of our research is to discover how to throw away duplicate points in the model and retain only the unique ones.”

The Kinect streams data at 40 megabytes per second – enough to fill an entire DVD every two minutes. Keeping the amount of stored data to a minimum will allow a scan of a person to occupy only a few hundred kilobytes of storage, about the same as a picture taken with a digital camera.

Another advantage of the Kinect is cost: It retails for $150. This low price tag, coupled with Schulze’s efforts to make it a portable self-contained, battery-powered instrument with an onboard screen to monitor scan progress, makes it feasible to send an ArKinect with Levy’s students to Jordan.

Schulze’s team is currently writing a paper about the ArKinect project to submit to a major international virtual reality conference.

Other students (all from UCSD’s Computer Science and Engineering department) involved in the project include master’s students Marlena Fecho and Jorge Schwarzhaupt, who helped develop the ArKinect’s scanning algorithm, and master’s student James Lue and undergraduate student Robert Pardridge, who helped with the 3D meshing program that creates surfaces from points extracted from the ArKinect’s depth map.

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